Headline: Discrimination lawsuit restrictions pass the House and Senate [Entered: 02/10/2012]
Both Missouri’s House and Senate approved legislation that would limit discrimination lawsuits by workers against their employers.
Gov. Jay Nixon had vetoed a similar bill last year, and Democrats predicted this year’s version would meet a similar fate if it clears the legislature.
“This bill will go down in flames once it gets down to the governor’s desk,” Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said during the House debate.
Supporters argue the measure would bring state law into conformity with federal law by requiring that discrimination was a “motivating factor.” The proposal also would impose a cap on monetary awards.
A filibuster that had been blocking a vote in the Senate ended when compromise language was drafted. Despite the agreement that ended the filibuster, Democrats voted against the proposal in both chambers.
The lawsuit restriction bill was one of the major issues cited by business organizations for their agenda at the start of the legislative session.
Either the House must pass the Senate bill or the Senate pass the House bill for the measure to move to the governor’s desk.
* Get the Senate bill, SB 592 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMY2 ] .
* Get the House roll call [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year 12&ne_vote™0 ] .
* Get the Senate roll call [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year 12&ne_vote™2 ] .
Headline: Missouri’s House tries again with requirement of photo ID to vote [Entered: 02/10/2012]
By Matt Evans
Missouri’s House approved Thursday [Feb. 9] the same photo ID voting requirement that Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed last year.
The measure would require showing a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, in order to vote.
During House debate earlier in the week, Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, said the bill infringes on voter rights.
“If there’s one eligible long-time voter who cannot vote under this, it’s constitutionally and horribly wrong for this body to even consider,” Newman said.
Other Democrats criticized the bill by saying it was part of a political agenda.
“No one can look themselves in the eye and say it has any other purpose than decrease the probability that older, poorer African-American women will vote. Mr. Speaker, I’m ashamed to be here today,” said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.
Proponents of the bill said its purpose is to protect voter rights and prevent fraudulent votes. The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, represents part of Reynolds County. He said there are more people registered to vote in the county than people who actually live there.
“But when Frisky the dog gets to cast a vote in Reynolds County, that will cancel out their (the people’s) vote,” Smith said.
The measure now goes to the Senate.
Later this year, Missourians will vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to require a photo ID to vote. The measure will appear on the November ballot unless the governor moves the question to an earlier election, such as the August primary.
* Get the bill. [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM_04]
* Get the House roll call [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year 12&ne_vote˜9 ] .
Headline: Missouri House approves I-70 toll road ban [Entered: 02/08/2012]
By Matthew Patane and Cole Karr
The Missouri House voted to ban the Missouri Department of Transportation from operating Interstate 70 as a toll road.
By an overwhelming vote Tuesday [Feb. 7], the House restored language to a bill that would prohibit the transportation department from funding, acquiring, maintaining, designing or operating toll roads. The transportation department has proposed a public-private partnership in which a private company would build and operate a toll road for I-70 between the outlying areas of Kansas City and St. Louis.
By MoDOT not directly operating the toll road itself, the public-private partnership would not require voter approval. Missourians voted to reject toll roads in 1992.
The day before the House vote, legislation to authorize an I-70 toll road was introduced in Missouri’s Senate.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, would authorize the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to form a partnership with a private company. The company would provide funds for the upkeep of the highway and, in return, would be allowed to establish a tollway on I-70 between Wentzville and Blue Springs for reimbursement.
Kehoe said the proposal was a way to begin the discussion of potential options.
“Projects like this are going to have to become part of Missouri’s transportation conversation,” Kehoe said. “Whether this is the solution or we come up with another solution. Something has to be done.”
MoDOT officials expressed disappointment following the House vote against tolls. MoDOT Special Assignments Coordinator Bob Brendel said it would be bad for any viable option to be taken off the table that could help fund infrastructure improvements in the state at time of decreasing resources and increasing need.
“We think it’s good public policy to discuss every option for funding infrastructure in the state of Missouri,” Brendel said. “But ultimately MoDOT will follow the direction of the legislature.”
Brendel said it could take 2 to 40 years to make full improvements to I-70 without a toll, using the current amount of resources at hand. However, Brendel said the project could take only six to eight years with public-private partnerships.
Some legislators said the House-passed language might still allow the public-private partnership, although such a partnership would require legislative approval.
* Get the Senate toll road text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TOLL70.HTM]
* Get the House toll road vote text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TOLLBAN.HTM]
* Get the roll call [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year 12&ne_vote™4 ] .
* Get the toll-road ban bill, HB 1277 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM_77 ] .
* Get the Senate toll-road authorization bill, SB 752 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMu2 ] .
Headline: Elimination of state income tax debated at press day [Entered: 02/09/2012]
By Mary McGuire
Eliminating the state income tax was debated during a press day on Thursday [Feb. 9] at the Capitol.
During the Missouri Press Association and The Associated Press annual Day at the Capitol, Anne Marie Moy of “Let Voters Decide” spoke in favor of the Missouri Taxpayers Relief Act, which would eliminate the state income tax.
“Missourians are taxed twice; both for the money they make and the money they spend. We seek to eliminate this double taxation,” Moy said.
Opposing the end of state income tax issue was Jim Moody of Missourians for Fair Taxation and Jim R. Moody Associates, a lobbying firm.
“We rely on three forms of taxation: income, sales and property,” Moody said. “We cannot cut one leg off of a three-legged stool.”
* Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/FAIRTAX.HTM]
* Get the MPA Link to the two presentations [ https://mopress.com/legislative.php?blog_idd ]
Headline: Nixon eases his proposed higher education budget cuts [Entered: 02/07/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday [Feb. 7] that he plans to soften his proposed cuts to Missouri’s public universities with $40 million from a pending national mortgage settlement.
Nixon proposed a 15 percent cut to all higher education institutions for the 2013 fiscal year. The pending settlement is worth $140 million, but $100 million of that will go directly to homeowners. The other $40 million would cushion Nixon’s higher education cuts and reduce them to 9 percent from what the legislature appropriated last year.
Attorney General Chris Koster said he supported the proposed national settlement but that negotiations were still ongoing.
“My intention is to settle this portion of the state’s case against the banks returning more than a $100 million directly to mortgage holders in our state and adding tens of millions of dollars to the state’s general revenue fund in these difficult economic times,” Koster said in a statement.
Koster is part of a lawsuit, along with other attorneys general in the country, filed against the five largest mortgage companies, which were indicted for fraudulent foreclosure practices during the 2008 budget crisis.
The General Assembly would still need to approve the use of additional funds from the lawsuit. State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the funds would not be available until the start of the fiscal year in July.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he was delighted Nixon listened to the higher education community on restoring some of his cuts.
“I am so proud of higher education,” Kelly said.
* Get the text story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/HIGHER.HTM ]
Headline: Advertising on school buses considered as source to increase revenue [Entered: 02/06/2012]
By Josie Butler
Children would face advertisements on school buses under a measure presented to the Missouri House Urban Issues Committee.
The measure would allow school districts to lease ad space on buses.
Advertising containing obscenity, sexual material, gambling, political campaigns or religion would be prohibited. The bill would also prohibit advertisements that promote the use of drugs, illegal activity or anti-social behavior. The school board of a local district could determine whether ads are age-appropriate or appropriate for school buses.
“It limits anything that could be considered swaying of children’s purchasing decisions,” said the bill sponsor, Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Jasper County.
Kelley said the addition of bus ads would benefit urban communities because revenue would be retained in a school bus advertising fund. Fifty percent of any revenue would be used by the local school board to offset the fuel costs of the transportation services. The remaining fifty percent would be used at the discretion of the school board.
“The larger cities will have more of a bus population and also a higher advertising potential for buses,” Kelley said.
The ads would allow small businesses to support their local school districts, Kelley said. Advertisements will only be allowed on the passenger side of the bus or the ceiling of the bus due to safety regulations.
“This is just allowing our local school districts, at their discretion, to try to look at another funding stream as we continue to fail at funding the foundation formula,” Kelley said. “Those are not the ones that need to be suffering.”
* Get the bill, HB 1273 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM_73 ]
* Get the text story [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/URBAN.HTM ] .
Headline: Missouri House committee adopts charter school accountability bill [Entered: 02/09/2012]
By Stephanie Ebbs
Charter schools would be allowed to operate in more areas of the state under a measure approved by the House Education Committee on Wednesday [Feb. 8].
The bill also would create higher accountability standards for charter schools as well as allowing them to expand past unaccredited districts. Charter schools are public schools that operate outside the traditional district. Currently, charters can only be sponsored by a higher educational institution or a school board in St. Louis or Kansas City.
“I think with having the sponsor more hands on and more accountable, (the sponsor) can intervene more quickly,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis.
Legislators have been calling for greater accountability and transparency after two charter schools in St. Louis unexpectedly closed their doors last year.
Although the bill passed the committee with a vote of 14-4, those in opposition were vocal about their concerns.
“I want to see the accountability standards put in place, and I want to see them work before we see any expansion,” said Rep. Ira Anders, D-Independence. “That’s why I will be opposing this bill.” The bill now goes to the full House for debate.
* Get the text story [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CHARTER2.HTM ]
* Get the bill, HB 1228 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM_28 ]
Headline: House members call out the governor on his office budget [Entered: 02/07/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
Gov. Jay Nixon’s office budget was under fire from the House General Administration Appropriations over employees whose salaries are billed to other state agencies.
Committee Chairman Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, questioned John Watson, the governor’s chief of staff, about employees working for the governor but who are listed under the Department of Insurance and paid by other state agencies.
“Why not do the right thing and put them on the governor’s office budget?” Parkinson asked.
Watson said the employees in question deal exclusively with the governor’s appointments to various state boards and commissions.
“What we have tried to do is the resources that those folks are handling on a day-to-day basis for their duties are being paid for out of those resources by which they are doing the work,” Watson said.
House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said he was not surprised by Nixon’s employee shuffle.
“King Jay is going to do what King Jay wants to do,” Silvey said.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/GOVFOOD.HTM]
Headline: Missouri legislature takes steps to equalize school funding [Entered: 02/06/2012]
By Stephanie Ebbs
Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, is sponsoring a bill that would attempt to “minimize the hurt” schools feel in the 2013 fiscal year. Missouri doesn’t have enough money to give public schools all the funding they are supposed to receive. However, the law doesn’t tell the state how to decide which schools’ funding should be cut.
The state is currently $268 million below what is needed to fully fund Missouri’s schools, and Thomson said that deficit could continue to grow if no action is taken.
His bill to reduce the harm from funding cuts uses a “negotiated average” to decide which schools will not receive full funding in 2013. Schools that have not experienced an increase in funding in the past seven years will have a smaller percentage of cuts than districts that have received an increase in funding.
The General Assembly is attempting to decide how to distribute funds fairly when there are no guidelines about how to make those choices with insufficient funds. Without a change to the law this session, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has to make these decisions without legal authority, which could result in funding increases for some schools and decreases for others, Thomson said.
The current formula calculates school funding based on student attendance, property tax rates and local wealth. The formula also incorporates an “adequacy target,” calculated by finding the average annual spending per student and recommending that as the minimum spending for all districts.
Thomson’s bill was passed out of committee and will move to the House for debate.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/FUNDS.HTM]
Headline: Missouri Senate delays vote on red light cameras [Entered: 02/09/2012]
A filibuster blocked Senate action Wednesday [Feb. 8] on a bill that would take revenue from photo verification camera fines and give it to Missouri public schools.
The bill would require that fines generated from the automated systems be allocated to local schools rather than being split between the city and the company that operates the cameras.
One-third of the money goes to Gatso, the traffic light installation company, while the other two-thirds is given to the city where the violation took place. Missouri charges $120 for traffic camera violations. For example, in 2011, Gatso received $54,076 from Columbia violations. After police personnel, court and prosecution costs, the City of Columbia received $18,047.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, argued that because the purpose of the systems was safety rather than making money, there would be no objection to transferring the funds to schools.
Opponents argued that the automated enforcement system has improved safety at intersections.
* Get the bill, SB 589 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMX9 ] .
Headline: Missouri House committee discusses anti-bullying bill [Entered: 02/08/2012]
By Danielle Carter
The House Children and Families Committee debated a bill on Wednesday [Feb. 8] that would require schools to lay out detailed plans on how to deal with bullying.
The bill would require schools to create policies specifying exactly how they would deal with instances of bullying.
Sydney Wilhelm, a high school freshman, told the committee how her school’s officials did nothing to stop her peers from bullying her.
Tina Meier, mother of Megan Meier, also testified in favor of the bill. She said the state’s approach to dealing with bullying must change given the technological advancements in the past decade. Her daughter Megan hanged herself after being bullied on her Myspace by an adult posing as a 16-year-old boy.
Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, expressed a desire to hold the parents of the bullies accountable as well. No committee members directly opposed the bill.
The House did not take immediate action on the bill.
* Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/BULLYING.HTM]
Headline: House committee discusses bill to crack down on unlicensed child care providers [Entered: 02/08/2012]
By Danielle Carter
The House Children and Families Committee discussed a bill that would enact stricter laws against unlicensed child care providers.
The bill, also known as “Sam Pratt’s Law,” would stop unlicensed child care providers from handling any services if they have pending criminal charges.
Sam was an infant when he died under the care of an in-home day care provider. Sam’s grandmother, Debbie Thrasher, testified in support of the bill. Thrasher owns her own licensed day care facility and believes unlicensed facilities should be held accountable as well.
Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said he is concerned about providers losing their businesses just from the filing of a criminal charge. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Linda Black, D-Bonne Terre, responded that she was unsure about the procedure if that situation arose.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.
* Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/KIDCARE.HTM]
Headline: Missouri House members discuss creating an even playing field for local business [Entered: 02/08/2012]
By Matthew Patane
With Missouri lawmakers trying to find ways to cut costs, some legislators are once again discussing legislation that would allow the state to collect revenue from online sales.
Legislators in support of the bill believe the state could be losing more than $40 million in general revenue because Missouri does not currently have a mechanism to effectively collect a tax on Internet sales.
Committee chairman Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, said joining the agreement would create a level playing field for Missouri businesses.
“Sales tax revenue is the lifeblood of many of our cities and municipalities,” Funderburk, one of the sponsors, said. “This would eliminate the competitive disadvantage other states have (over Missouri).”
The House Tax Reform Committee hearing held Wednesday [Feb. 8] was a mirror image of its predecessor last year, with two bills presented allowing Missouri to join in an agreement with other states about the Internet sales tax policy. The agreement is between a collection of states whose purpose is to reform state tax policy to make them more consistent, according to the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, which is in charge of the compact.
* Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/INTTAX.HTM]
Headline: Missouri Republicans propose bill to counteract Obama’s contraceptive policy [Entered: 02/08/2012]
By Josie Butler
Despite a new federal mandate that requires religious health care providers to cover contraceptives, a Republican-backed bill could exempt these providers from participating in services that “violate their conscience.”
At a House Health Care Policy Committee hearing, bill sponsor Rep. Timothy Jones, R-St. Louis County, said this bill would act as protection of an employers’ conscience.
Jones said he believes this is a timely bill because President Barack Obama recently announced a law that would require all employers to cover birth control for women in their insurance. Republicans and religious groups strongly oppose Obama’s mandate.
Jones’ proposal would prevent health care providers in public and private health care facilities from being discriminated against or held civilly or criminally liable if they chose to opt out of participating in procedures that violate their conscience.
The House committee has not yet taken any action on this bill.
* Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CONPROT.HTM]
Headline: Capitol Perspective: Governors and the Legislature [Entered: 02/10/2012]
By Phill Brooks
During the past few weeks, there have been increasing complaints from state legislators about the governor’s relationship with the Missouri General Assembly.
Even Democrats, privately and sometimes not-so-privately, are voicing frustrations about Gov. Jay Nixon’s stand-off approach with the legislature and individual legislators.
It’s not unusual for governors to have problems with the legislature, regardless whether the governor’s own party controls the legislature or not. There is almost an institutional rivalry between the legislative and executive branches.
What is unusual about Nixon’s relationship is his near-complete visible absence from the legislative process. He rarely is seen on the legislature’s third floor of the Capitol where the Senate and House chambers are located, just one flight of stairs up from his own office.
The past two times I caught the governor on the legislative floor during the last special session, he was barricaded behind an army of aides and security detail. Those two times involved short visits to legislative leaders’ offices.
Top legislators complain they rarely talk to or see the governor. One top legislative leader had to ask his secretary to check his appointment calendar for the last time he had met with Nixon. Another remembered briefly talking with the governor at the start of the fall’s special session.
That is quite a difference from the first governor I covered, Warren Hearnes.
He had been the House majority leader and clearly enjoyed interactions with legislators. He would spend hours in Rep. Tom Walsh’s office. It was just across the hallway from the chamber, making it easy for members to drop by to talk and negotiate. Walsh’s office sometimes seemed like a secondary office for Hearnes.
But on the Senate side of the building, Hearnes’ relations in his final years as governor were among the worst I’ve seen. I sensed that Senate Democrats never forgave Hearnes for creating a budget crisis that forced them to pass an income tax increase.
Hearnes’ successor, Republican Kit Bond, initially also had problems with Senate members of his own party.
The Senate was dominated by conservatives who resisted his progressive agenda, including the state’s first open meetings law, campaign finance disclosure requirements and a sweeping package of consumer protection measures.
The aggressiveness of his staff in pushing that agenda led Senate Republican Richard Webster to coin the term “kiddie corps” to ridicule the young age of both Bond (the state’s youngest governor) and his relatively young staff.
Bond had not served in the legislature, and I often wondered if that was a factor.
But when the Mexico Republican returned for his second term, it was almost a complete reversal of relations with the Senate. He developed close, personal relationships with Senate members from both parties.
Weekly, Bond would visit a senator’s office for an evening session of laid-back discussion and socializing that was fueled, legislators confessed to me, by goodly quantities of drinks. A couple of the senators reported Bond was so gracious that he would remember their favorite brand of scotch or beer.
The Columbia Tribune’s statehouse reporter remembers that Bond’s successor, John Ashcroft, who was not known as a partying person, as having a playful wrestling match with the House speaker during one late-night negotiating session on a major higher education bill.
Democrat Mel Carnahan had an equally successful relationship with the legislature.
Like Hearnes, Carnahan had served as a House majority leader. Like Hearnes, he understood how to make things happen in the General Assembly.
But his approach was quite different from his predecessors. Rather than pushing a detailed agenda or extensive socializing with lawmakers, Carnahan played the role of a facilitator.
He would identify broad policy issues he wanted passed. Then, he would get personally involved in sometimes lengthy sessions with legislators to get the lawmakers themselves to work out the details.
What makes Nixon’s legislative detachment perplexing is that he shares some of the attributes of these past governors who had such successful and close legislative interactions.
Like Hearnes and Carnahan, Nixon served in the legislature. Although he never rose to a top leadership position in the Senate, he worked on a number of legislative issues as a four-term attorney general.
He knows the process. He knows the issues. He has an ease of conversation on complicated and controversial policy issues that would fit well with lawmakers and their environment.
Yet, for whatever reason, lawmakers find almost a complete detachment from Jay Nixon, just one flight of stairs below their legislative chambers.
As always, let me know (at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and a faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.
Past columns are available at http://www.mdn.org/mpacol.]